Reggie Theus didn’t mind when his CSUN men’s basketball team played at full speed last season.
But he believes the Matadors would be half-crazy to try that this time around.
The right mix of aggressive work toward the basket and even more tenacity on defense is the preferred menu for Theus, a two-time NBA All-Star who played 13 years there and now enters his fifth season at the CSUN helm. The Matadors gave up more than 80 points per game in last year’s 11-19 campaign and averaged about that themselves, which is the kind of thing that happens when you play with pace.
It’s not a regret by any means – but Theus knows 2017-18 is a different time and situation.
“We also scored about 80 points a game. When you are an uptempo team, thre are going to be more possessions so opponents will score more,” said Theus, who is bringing CSUN to the Nov. 21-22 Cancun Challenge. “We were a great team running downhill on offense, but not so great running the other way. With this team, I don’t anticipate playing that style of basketball -- we have to be capable to score in the open court, but we are not seeking it out.
“If we have it, we’ll take it – that lends to a mentality where we have to be better defensively. This is such a young team, and it’s nice to see where we started about playing defense in college basketball and where we are going, but it’s about mentality. It starts there, taking pride in your individual defense.”
Theus had an interesting offseason, spending time in the Philippines as part of the NBA Cares 3-on-3 outreach. The competitive 3-on-3 tournament included divisions for boys (under-13, under-16, under-18, and open category), girls (under-16 and open category) and an invitation only Celebrity Division featuring local personalities. Theus said the game is rabidly popular in and out of Manila, with kids playing through rainstorms on courts that seemed to be on every street corner.
CSUN has a Philippino native on the roster in Kobe Paras, who transferred from Creighton and is sitting out this season per NCAA rules. Theus said Paras was “treated like a rock star” in his appearances back home this summer.
As for the players who are suiting up for CSUN, there are some definite leading lights. Tavrion Dawson was a preseason all-Big West selection who averaged 14 points and seven rebounds per game last year; the 6-foot-8 senior is effective inside and out and has blossomed after a rough start to his career as he had to sit out a year for academic reasons.
“He’s gotten better every year. I told him going into this season, we start at 14 (points per game) and 8 (rebounds per game). Anything less is a negative, so we have to build on that,” Theus said. “It was a different team last year, more potent, and the other teams had to guard other guys. This will be his roughest year, because he’s the focal point.”
Fans should also keep an eye on a set of newcomers to campus, including freshmen Terrell Gomez and Jalon Pipkins. In the team’s first two games, the 5-8 Gomez is averaging 16.5 points per contest and also leads the team in assists.
JUCO transfers Carl Brown and Zeno Lake are also going to be leaned on; Lake leads the team in rebounds so far despite being a bit undersized for the job at 6-8, 215 pounds.
“I’m going to lean on our three seniors (Dawson, Micheal Warren and Reggis Theus, Jr.) for leadership and production, and I’m enjoying coaching these young kids,” coach Theus said. “It’s a challenge every day to teach the intricacies of the game, and these kids are like sponges.
“We haven’t had a chance to go someplace together as a team. The Cancun trip is about business, but there are a few minutes in there to relax. We see it as a chance to bond and chance to play on a neutral court, which will be important.”